Electricity bill threatens survival of OpenBSD

Security-focused BSD distribution says it will have to cease operations unless a sponsor for its power is found.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

One month ago, OpenBSD put the call out for a corporate sponsor to handle the project's CA$20,000 annual electricity bill it racked up running the project's development and build machines, and the project is still waiting for its corporate saviour.

However, not just any company or offer would do. Project founder and leader Theo de Raadt stated in his opening plea that the company should be based in Canada, and, for logistical reasons, the thought of moving the machines would not be entertained. Ideally, de Raadt wanted a company to handle the electricity bill for the project on its book every year.

"We really need even more funding beyond that, because otherwise, all of this is simply unsustainable. This request is the smallest we can make," said de Raadt in a following email.

A developer on the project, Bob Beck, put it more starkly when he added: "The fact is right now, OpenBSD will shut down if we do not have the funding to keep the lights on."

Posters to the mailing list have suggested that the project should scale down the number of architectures that it develops for, or even look to take the hardware into the cloud, but the project has dismissed all such ideas in typically straight-shooting OpenBSD fashion.

One of the reasons for the high electricity bill is that the machines are always powered on.

"As much as possible, they are always building something, whether it be ports or builds, hoping that some of the address space randomization or such will spot bugs," said de Raadt overnight.

Despite a number of users making donations to the OpenBSD Foundation, the preferred funding method is to still find a corporate entity to cover the electricity costs.

"Rather than the 'little people' funding our efforts, many of the things we do in OpenBSD are often incorporated into products made by multimillion-dollar companies," de Raadt said this week.

"This is not a BSD vs GPL issue, it is about a plain lack of goodwill, something you cannot mandate via a licence. A lack of goodwill is effectively bad will."

OpenBSD's preferred fundraising avenue has been the sale of boxed CD copies of each major distribution release.

Funding issues are not new to the project; in 2006, OpenBSD faced a similar issue when it was revealed that project was running at a $20,000 loss each year. At that time, de Raadt called upon commercial users of OpenBSD's projects to step up.

"OpenSSH is included in every Unix-derived operating system, yet the total amount of assistance we've ever got from vendors is zero," he said at the time. "It's astounding. I don't know what to do about it.

"The culture of entitlement is starting to damage the open-source community."

OpenBSD's software is widely included in a number of Linux- and Unix-based operating systems, with OpenSSH being the de facto industry standard for remote access.

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